The federal government has backed off its attempts to stall a decision in an eight-year-old legal case initiated by indigenous people who say they were deprived of their cultural identity when they were removed as children from their homes on reserves and placed with white families.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the $1.3-billion Ontario "Sixties Scoop" case were furious earlier this week when Barney Brucker, a Justice Department lawyer, wrote to Justice Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court to ask for a meeting to discuss a possible delay of the judgment that was set to be delivered on Feb. 15. One of them suggested that the government's request required significant chutzpah, which he defined as "shameless audacity, impudence, gall, effrontery."
Justice Belobaba refused to hold that meeting and instead urged the federal lawyers to explain in writing why the decision should not be read.
Instead of making the written case for a delay, Mr. Brucker wrote to Justice Belobaba on Friday to rescind his request.
The proposed delay of the decision was motivated by the fact that the federal government has said it is prepared to reach a negotiated settlement with all of the litigants in Sixties Scoop cases, explained Mr. Brucker. Similar cases have been launched in other provinces but the Ontario case, which has been certified as a class action and which has been actively before the court since last August, is the furthest along.
"The commitment of the Government of Canada is to pursue a robust and expedited process of reconciliation for the whole of the country, with aspects touching upon a co-operative engagement of provinces as well," Mr. Brucker wrote. "But in view of the plaintiff's understandable desire to obtain a legal decision without further delay, we will respect their choice and will not be proceeding with a motion requesting an abeyance of your decision."
Justice Belobaba is now planning to release his decision on Feb. 14.
The Ontario case was launched in 2009 on behalf of Marcia Brown Martel, now the Chief of the Beaverhouse First Nation, who was taken from her community north of North Bay in 1967 when she was four years old and, after years in foster care, was adopted by a white family.
Her lawyers estimate there are about 16,000 other indigenous people in the province who were removed from their homes in similar fashion, under a federal-provincial agreement, between 1965 and 1984.
The court battle has cost taxpayers more than $2-million to date. The government has tried to have it thrown out eight times and adjourned 16 times. More than 20,000 pages of documentary evidence has been submitted by the government to support its case over the past 18 months.
"We're very pleased that the Government of Canada has chosen not to attempt to interfere in the process of judicial decision-making that's been outstanding for eight years," said Jeffery Wilson, one of the lawyers for Ms. Brown. "Whatever the decision, it will be part of the healing process for the survivors of the Sixties Scoop, long overdue."